The impetus for the change came from the congregation’s outreach project.
The Birmingham Temple has replaced its name with a more accurate description. Its new name: the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Metro Detroit.
The impetus for the change came from the congregation’s outreach project. Analyzing factors relevant to recruitment, committee members noted that the inherited name did not succeed in “telling our story.” In an official statement, the congregation leadership observed that “Humanistic Judaism is not well understood, and our name was doing little to even prompt questions or curiosity about it!”
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick felt that personally: “When I was out in the community, introducing myself as the rabbi of the Birmingham Temple meant that I never even had the opportunity to state the most important thing about us, that we’re a community of Humanistic Jews.”
He adds, “I have already noticed that when I say I’m from the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, I get more questions about what that means.”
Some leaders also objected that the old name did not come close to meeting the congregation’s ideology: That we “say what we mean.”
“We haven’t been in Birmingham for close to 50 years,” Rabbi Falick added.
In a process taking more than a year, moving from the outreach project to the board to the entire congregation, the congregation sought a new, more expressive name for itself. The most widely accepted of the 27 suggestions included the words “Humanistic Judaism.”
In 1963, Rabbi Sherwin Wine with eight like-minded families founded the Birmingham Temple as the first Humanistic Jewish congregation in 1963, introducing a number of significant changes in breaking from the Reform Movement, such as dropping mentions of God in the liturgy and removing the Torah from the front of the sanctuary to a space in the library. The non-theistic movement emphasizes human beings as the sources of values.
Rabbi Falick explains, “The original name was really a legacy of a short stay in Birmingham, some of which did not go all that well. For example, there was that time when the Birmingham Masonic Temple received so many complaints about our non-theistic celebrations that they actually evicted us! In any case, the original name never underwent any kind of process. It was simply an inheritance.
“Naming the movement, on the other hand, was the result of a real process back in the 1960s,” Rabbi Falick said. “After considering possibilities like ‘Rational Judaism’ or ‘Naturalistic Judaism,’ they landed on Humanistic, a positive and upbeat way to describe us and draw interest.
“Given the attachment to our movement and its name, it just seemed right that it should become prominent in our new congregational name. Our members and leaders have always stood ready to share with anyone interested just what Humanistic Judaism is all about.
“Now they don’t have to waste the time explaining what Birmingham has to do with anything. They can get right to the point about our innovative approach to Judaism.”